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What Is a PUP?

  • January 23, 2019
What Is a PUP

The term potentially unwanted program (PUP) was coined by internet security company, McAfee, not too long ago. This is exactly why not enough people understand what potentially unwanted programs are, and end up confusing them with malware.

Potentially unwanted programs are significantly different from malware in a number of ways. 

What Is A Potentially Unwanted Program?

The most important distinction between potentially unwanted programs and malware is the way in which both of these types of software or programs enter into the system of users.

While malware is known to pose as other software or sneaks into your system through treacherous techniques, the same does not hold true for potentially unwanted programs. Instead, in most cases, potentially unwanted software is only installed on your system once you have clicked through an end user license agreement (EULA) that explicitly states that certain programs will be installed on your computer with the program that you had actually wanted to download.

Now that you know some of the differences between malware and potentially unwanted programs, we can start talking about the different types of potentially unwanted programs and what they can do once they have been installed on your system.

What are potentially unwanted programs?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune of seeing a new toolbar appear on your browser as soon as you downloaded and installed a program or application, you’ve already had your first interaction with a potentially unwanted program.

As the name suggests, potentially unwanted programs are not exactly anyone’s favorite program. In most cases, this is because the program in question does not add any value to the computer or system in question. Instead, potentially unwanted programs either take up significant amounts of screen space like browser toolbars or pop-ups, or end up affecting your computer in other ways such as slowing them down or making it difficult for you to perform certain functions and operations.

Also known as bundleware, junkware, and potentially unwanted applications, potentially unwanted programs can also collect and save private and confidential information in some cases. With that said, since you “agreed” to their download and installation, it is generally not possible to take the same action against potentially unwanted programs as you would with malware.

What makes a software or application a potentially unwanted program?

While there still isn’t a set of rules or transgressions that need to be crossed off a list for a program or software to be declared a PUP, security engineers have created techniques that can help them in the classification of programs and software.

While certain types of programs or software will only be “officially’ termed as a potentially unwanted program once they have made a significant number of small transgressions, a single serious violation is enough for other types of programs. Since we know that you’re interested in knowing what these violations and transgressions are, they can include anything from displaying pop-ups that can hinder usage of the device, altering searches of the user or search results, and automatically bookmarking certain – often inappropriate – websites.

In some cases, potentially unwanted programs might even start automatically populating checkboxes for permission forms, or arbitrarily add terms such as “suggested” or “recommended” next to certain search results.

How can you protect your computer from potentially unwanted programs?

By now, you’re probably slightly concerned about how your freedom and control can be compromised should you give a potentially unwanted program permission to be installed on your computer. That’s exactly why we’re letting you in on some tips that can help you protect your systems from potentially unwanted programs to ensure that your computer or system remains as useful and operational as you’d like it to be.

Read through license agreements

Since the most common path for potentially unwanted programs to enter into the systems of unsuspecting – and inattentive – users is the license agreement route, it is imperative for you to read through license agreements of all software and programs that you wish to download.

Even though most license agreements can be incredibly long and you may feel tempted to scroll past them only to activate the “Agree” button and move on with your life, software license agreements should, indeed, be treated with more caution because they can even be used as the basis of legal action. What’s more, since most developers know that the average person would rather watch paint dry than read through their software license agreement, it isn’t uncommon for developers to let their witty personalities shine through their license agreements.   

Don’t believe us? Here’s a sample:

Read Through License Agreements

Since most people will only read through the first paragraph of the software license agreement – if not only the blurb on the top left – the developer was sure to add a great deal in this license agreement.

Another reason why it’s important to read through software license agreements is because in addition to asking for permission to download additional “potentially unwanted” programs, most license agreements also contain clauses about how your private and confidential data will either be collected or processed.

Recognize suspicious behavior

Even though you might find a lot of programs and software acting unusually or suspiciously, it is imperative for you to look out for some telltale signs of the presence of potentially unwanted programs in your systems. The most common way in which potentially unwanted programs can be detected is through knowing what “dark patterns” are and recognizing them.

Being user interfaces that have been meticulously and deliberately designed to achieve mischievous objectives, dark patterns make it difficult for unaware users to question the legitimacy of certain software or services. These suspicious behaviors and dark patterns especially include making the desired path (such as clicking on the “Agree” button) far easier with the help of bright colors and arrows pointing towards it, pre-populating checkboxes, and “seals” of credibility.

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Beef up your computer’s security

Since potentially unwanted programs tend to make their way into your systems or devices as part of the package with other programs or applications, it’s important to add extra layers of security to your device to ensure that you won’t have to deal with malicious software or potentially unwanted programs. By investing in the right ad blockers, anti-malware, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software, you can increase your chances of keeping your computers safe from impending threats of the likes.

How can potentially unwanted programs be removed from a computer?

Once you’ve identified the symptoms of the presence of potentially unwanted programs in your computer, it’s important to start taking action to ensure that your device does not have to suffer as a result.

The first thing that you must do to start removing potentially unwanted programs from your computer is to uninstall the primary host program. Since potentially unwanted programs come as part of the package, removing the host program will get a lot of the work done.

You can start removing suspicious host programs by going to your Control Panel on Windows and clicking on Programs and Features.

How Can Potentially Unwanted Programs Be Removed From A Computer?

Once the list of installed programs and features opens, you must select the problematic program and click on uninstall to remove the program and all associated data from your computer. This can be done by right-clicking on the program.

As an example, we have selected WinRAR to demonstrate the steps above.

How Can Potentially Unwanted Programs Be Removed From A Computer?

Once you’ve removed software that came with potentially unwanted programs, it’s important to remove all adware and additional programs that become a nuisance using the right ad-blocker. It is also imperative for you to scan your computer for malware and remove them from the system too in order to prevent problems in the future.

How Can Potentially Unwanted Programs Be Removed From A Computer?

The next step after removing all of the malware, viruses, and adware is to restore your browser’s settings back to their default state. This is important regardless of whether or not your browser is redirecting you to unwanted websites or links since the effects of adware can linger on for long.

Here, we’re telling you how you can restore your browser’s settings to default on Google Chrome.

Once you’ve clicked on the Settings tab, scroll all the way down and click on Advanced.

Doing so will make the following screen appear:

How Can Potentially Unwanted Programs Be Removed From A Computer?

By scrolling all the way down once again, you’ll find the Restore settings to their original defaults tab which needs to be selected.

How Can Potentially Unwanted Programs Be Removed From A Computer?

You can complete the process by clicking on Reset Settings.

How Can Potentially Unwanted Programs Be Removed From A Computer?

Doing so will remove all additional toolbars and potentially unwanted programs that were installed on your computer and operating through your browser.

Now that you know what you must do to protect your devices from potentially unwanted programs and remove them from your systems, it’s imperative for you to start taking action to prevent your computer from slowing down.

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